Phillips v. Youth Development Program, Inc.

CourtMassachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Writing for the CourtBefore HENNESSEY; WILKINS; ABRAMS
Citation459 N.E.2d 453,390 Mass. 652
PartiesCynthia J. PHILLIPS v. YOUTH DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM, INC.
Decision Date28 December 1983

Page 453

459 N.E.2d 453
390 Mass. 652
Cynthia J. PHILLIPS
v.
YOUTH DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM, INC.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,
Hampden.
Argued April 7, 1983.
Decided Dec. 28, 1983.

Page 454

[390 Mass. 653] Anne Rideout, Springfield, for defendant.

Gerald R. Hegarty, Springfield, for plaintiff.

Before [390 Mass. 652] HENNESSEY, C.J., and WILKINS, ABRAMS, NOLAN and O'CONNOR, JJ.

[390 Mass. 653] WILKINS, Justice.

In October, 1979, the defendant Youth Development Program, Inc. (YDP), discharged the plaintiff as its supervisor of supportive services in circumstances that would entitle her to relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1970), if YDP's action in discharging her was "State action" for the purposes of § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The trial judge concluded that YDP engaged in State action in firing the plaintiff. He ordered her to be reinstated with a full restoration of rights, including back pay, and awarded her attorney's fees and $4,000 in compensatory damages. On appeal, by a divided (two to one) vote, the Appeals Court reversed the judgment for the plaintiff and ordered dismissal of the action.

Page 455

Phillips v. Youth Dev. Program, Inc., 14 Mass.App.Ct. 626, 441 N.E.2d 770 (1982).

The opinions in the Appeals Court--there were three--considered principles the Supreme Court of the United States had recently stated in three opinions issued on the same day. See Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 102 S.Ct. 2777, 73 L.Ed.2d 534 (1982); Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 102 S.Ct. 2744, 73 L.Ed.2d 482 (1982); Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 102 S.Ct. 2764, 73 L.Ed.2d 418 (1982). The three Supreme Court opinions, each authored by a different Justice, state tests for the determination of State action that may not be entirely consistent. Nevertheless, based on the reasoning of the Supreme Court collectively expressed in these opinions, we conclude, in agreement with the Appeals Court, that the act of discharging the plaintiff is not State action for the purpose of § 1983 or of the Fourteenth Amendment. We reject the plaintiff's claim for relief on common law contract grounds and decline to pass on her claim for relief under the Constitution of the Commonwealth because the claim is raised too late.

[390 Mass. 654] In claiming that her discharge by YDP was State action, the plaintiff relies on the relationship of YDP with the Springfield Juvenile Court. There is no doubt that YDP, a private corporation, had a close association with that court. In fact the Juvenile Court was YDP's sole client. Three of YDP's nine directors were employees of that court. YDP's by-laws provided that the "Intensive Juvenile Probation Program" was subject "in all phases" to the final approval of the presiding justice of the Juvenile Court. Probation officers of the Juvenile Court referred juveniles to YDP and recommended the services they wished YDP to provide. YDP's program was not, however, required by statute, and, as far as appears in the record, no statute or regulation required the Commonwealth to provide services of the type furnished by YDP to the juveniles. Prior to July 1, 1979, YDP was funded solely by Hampden county pursuant to contracts between the county commissioners and YDP. For the fiscal year commencing July 1, 1979, the Commonwealth provided funding pursuant to a contract between the administrative office of the Trial Court and YDP. 1 All salaries of YDP employees were paid from the office of the State Treasurer. Nothing in the contract, however, gave any representative of the Commonwealth the right to hire or fire YDP personnel. There was no evidence that the Juvenile Court judge, or any employee of the State acting as such, participated in the decision to discharge the plaintiff.

1. If a nominally private entity is performing a function that is "traditionally the exclusive prerogative of the State," then all the acts of that entity are State action. Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 353, 95 S.Ct. 449, 454, 42 L.Ed.2d 477 (1974). See Blum v. Yaretsky, supra 457 U.S. at 1011, 102 S.Ct. at 2789; Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, supra 457 U.S. at 842, 102 S.Ct. at 2772. The evidence would not support a conclusion that YDP was performing a traditional, exclusive function of the Commonwealth. The Supreme Court has taken a [390 Mass. 655] narrow view of what functions are traditionally reserved exclusively to the State. 2 YDP did not displace the role of the Juvenile Court probation department. Rather, it engaged in innovative

Page 456

counseling, recreational and educational programs not normally associated with traditional probation.

The decision to discharge the plaintiff could have been State action, even if YDP was not carrying out a traditionally exclusive prerogative of the State, if the discharge was required or substantially influenced by State policy or regulation or by YDP's contract with the State. The Appeals Court was correct in noting that the fact that YDP received referrals only from the court and received 100% of its financing from the State did not make the discharge State action. 14 Mass.App.Ct. at 637, 441 N.E.2d 770. Nor did the Juvenile Court's regulation of YDP warrant a conclusion that State action was involved in the discharge. Id. at 637-638, 441 N.E.2d 770.

The focus of an inquiry into State action must be on the Commonwealth's involvement in YDP's decision to discharge the plaintiff, and not on the over-all relationship of YDP and the Juvenile Court. There was no evidence that the Juvenile Court judge passed on this or any other individual discharge decision. The plaintiff argues that a provision in the by-laws of YDP, set forth in the Appeals Court opinion, id. at 638, 441 N.E.2d 770, required the Juvenile Court judge's approval of all termination decisions. Even if we were to accept that construction of the by-law provision, the plaintiff has failed to show that the judge's possible involvement rose above the level of "[m]ere approval of or acquiescence in the initiatives of a private party ...." Blum v. Yaretsky, supra 457 U.S. at 1004, 102 S.Ct. at 2786.

The decision to discharge the plaintiff was "not compelled or even influenced by any state regulation." Rendell-Baker [390 Mass. 656] v. Kohn, supra, 457 U.S. at 841, 102 S.Ct. at 2771. Similarly, the Appeals Court properly concluded that there was no mutually beneficial or "symbiotic" relationship between YDP and the Commonwealth warranting the conclusion that the Commonwealth was a joint participant or profited in any way from the challenged activity. 14 Mass.App. at 639, 441 N.E.2d 770.

The view taken by the Appeals Court, which we endorse, is consistent with the reasoning of recent opinions of various Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals. Unless the private entity is performing a traditional and exclusive State function, the focus must be on whether government action was involved in the particular conduct that is challenged as wrongful. See Gilmore v. Salt Lake Community Action Program, 710 F.2d 632, 638-639 (10th Cir.1983) (no State action in the discharge of plaintiff from a federally funded community action program, some of whose trustees were public officials); Gomez v. North Dakota Rural Dev. Corp., 704 F.2d 1056, 1058-1059 (8th Cir.1983) (no Federal government action and hence no Fifth Amendment violation in the discharge of the plaintiff by a nonprofit corporation that had a contract with the United States Department of Labor requiring departmental approval of hiring policies); McVarish v. Mid-Nebraska Community Mental Health Center, 696 F.2d 69, 71 (8th Cir.1982) (State action involved where plaintiff was discharged by vote of governing board, a majority of whose members were appointed by governmental units for the purpose of permitting them to supervise and allocate resources efficiently); Milonas v. Williams, 691 F.2d 931, 939 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1069, 103 S.Ct. 1524, 75 L.Ed.2d 947 (1982) (private residential school in which some youths were involuntarily placed by Juvenile Court authorities for rehabilitation engages in State action in its treatment of students). Only when government action is involved can it "be said that the State is responsible for the specific conduct of which the plaintiff complains" (emphasis in original). Blum v. Yaretsky, supra 457 U.S. at 1004, 102 S.Ct. at 2786. Implicit in the requirement that consideration be given to the extent of the State's involvement in the particular act alleged to be wrongful is the possibility [390 Mass. 657] that an entity may be engaged in State action for one purpose and not for another. See Milonas v. Williams, supra at 940; Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 641 F.2d 14, 26 (1st Cir.1981), aff'd,

Page 457

457 U.S. 830, 102 S.Ct. 2764, 73 L.Ed.2d 418 (1982). We thus agree with the Appeals Court that the evidence would not warrant a conclusion that the defendant's discharge was State action entitling her to relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

2. We also agree with the Appeals Court that the evidence would not warrant a decision in favor of the plaintiff on her claim that she was discharged in violation of the imposed obligation of good faith and fair dealing inherent in her employment arrangement. See 14 Mass.App.Ct. at 639, 441 N.E.2d 770. There is no evidence that she lost reasonably ascertainable future compensation based on past services, that YDP received any financial benefit from her discharge, or that her discharge without cause was for a reason that, as a matter of public policy should be rejected as adequate ground for her discharge. See Gram v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 384 Mass. 659, --- - ---, --- - ---, Mass.Adv.Sh. (1981) 2287, 2296-2297, 2300-2301, 429 N.E.2d 21; Fortune v. National Cash Register Co., 373 Mass. 96, 104-106, 364 N.E.2d 1251 (1977).

3. In this court for the first time, in a supplemental brief filed after this court granted further appellate review, the...

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64 practice notes
  • Kelley Property Development, Inc. v. Town of Lebanon, No. 14640
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 6, 1993
    ...525-28, 535, 479 A.2d 921 (1984) (no constitutional action in light of common law remedies); Phillips v. Youth Development Program, Inc., 390 Mass. 652, 658 n. 4, 459 N.E.2d 453 (1983) (need for judicial protection of rights in the absence of statutory remedies); Rockhouse Mountain Property......
  • Benjamin v. Washington State Bar Ass'n, No. 66352-1
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • July 22, 1999
    ...remedy for a person deprived of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures."); Phillips v. Youth Dev. Program, Inc., 390 Mass. 652, 459 N.E.2d 453, 457 (1983) ("a person whose constitutional rights have been interfered with may be entitled to judicial relief even in the ab......
  • Corum v. University of North Carolina Through Bd. of Governors, No. 163PA90
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • January 31, 1992
    ...582 (Tex.Ct.App.1987); Widgeon v. Eastern Shore Hosp. Ctr., 300 Md. 520, 479 A.2d 921 (1984); Phillips v. Youth Dev. Programs, Inc., 390 Mass. 652, 459 N.E.2d 453 (1983); Schreiner v. McKenzie Tank Lines & Risk Management Servs., Inc., 408 So.2d 711 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1982), approved Schreine......
  • Pimentel v. City of Methuen, Civil Action No. 17–11921–FDS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • June 26, 2018
    ...of Rights. It did suggest, 35 years ago, in dicta, that such a right "may" be available. See Phillips v. Youth Dev. Program, Inc. , 390 Mass. 652, 657–58, 459 N.E.2d 453 (1983) (stating that "a person whose constitutional rights have been interfered with may be entitled to judicial relief e......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
64 cases
  • Kelley Property Development, Inc. v. Town of Lebanon, No. 14640
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 6, 1993
    ...525-28, 535, 479 A.2d 921 (1984) (no constitutional action in light of common law remedies); Phillips v. Youth Development Program, Inc., 390 Mass. 652, 658 n. 4, 459 N.E.2d 453 (1983) (need for judicial protection of rights in the absence of statutory remedies); Rockhouse Mountain Property......
  • Benjamin v. Washington State Bar Ass'n, No. 66352-1
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • July 22, 1999
    ...remedy for a person deprived of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures."); Phillips v. Youth Dev. Program, Inc., 390 Mass. 652, 459 N.E.2d 453, 457 (1983) ("a person whose constitutional rights have been interfered with may be entitled to judicial relief even in the ab......
  • Corum v. University of North Carolina Through Bd. of Governors, No. 163PA90
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • January 31, 1992
    ...582 (Tex.Ct.App.1987); Widgeon v. Eastern Shore Hosp. Ctr., 300 Md. 520, 479 A.2d 921 (1984); Phillips v. Youth Dev. Programs, Inc., 390 Mass. 652, 459 N.E.2d 453 (1983); Schreiner v. McKenzie Tank Lines & Risk Management Servs., Inc., 408 So.2d 711 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1982), approved Schreine......
  • Pimentel v. City of Methuen, Civil Action No. 17–11921–FDS
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • June 26, 2018
    ...of Rights. It did suggest, 35 years ago, in dicta, that such a right "may" be available. See Phillips v. Youth Dev. Program, Inc. , 390 Mass. 652, 657–58, 459 N.E.2d 453 (1983) (stating that "a person whose constitutional rights have been interfered with may be entitled to judicial relief e......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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